On the Case

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Need-to-Know Basis

Picking a new superintendent for the Houston school district is an important job -- too important for mere mortals like district parents or residents.

Citing new rules, HISD is abandoning its own past practices -- and the usual methods used elsewhere in the nation -- and will not disclose the finalists to replace recently retired superintendent Kaye Stripling.

Unleash your inner Twisted Sister: "We're Not Gonna 
Take It" -- into the end zone anytime soon.
Unleash your inner Twisted Sister: "We're Not Gonna Take It" -- into the end zone anytime soon.

Announcing the finalists would only bring with it a lot of annoying public input, as reporters and citizens did their own background checks and then actually contacted school board members, who'd rather not be bothered, the officials leading the search didn't say.

Instead they said that "confidentiality enhances the applicant pool," which apparently is superintendent-search bureaucratese for "mind your own business."

Don Killough of the Texas Association of School Boards, which is running HISD's search, said a 1995 law allows the names of superintendent applicants to be exempt from Open Records Act requests.

The law indeed says that, but it also says the school board "must give public notice of the name or names of the finalists...at least 21 days before" a selection is made.

Even though Killough's group will be narrowing the field to five applicants in early November and further cutting it to three later that month, don't look for those names to become public.

Those survivors are definitely not "finalists" in the English sense of the word. The only "finalist" will be the person named November 17 as the proposed new superintendent -- who almost certainly will be interim Superintendent Abe Saavedra, rendering all this a bit moot.

"Even if it sounds like they're keeping information from the public, they have a right to do that," Killough told reporters September 24.

"If" it sounds that way? We don't see how there could be an "if" involved, but then again we don't have Killough and HISD's expert understanding of how the news media works.

"We ask that you work with us on explaining that process to the public," Killough told reporters. "It could turn into a circus if we're not careful with the media demanding names."

Glad to help, sir. And could we just add, right now, that whoever you pick is going to be a great administrator who only cares for the kids and the taxpayers? You're welcome.

Health Plan: Stay Healthy

Teachers and other workers in the Houston school district are degenerate gamblers, and the situation is getting worse every year.

They're not taking buses to Lake Charles or Vinton. Instead, they're dropping their health insurance.

Lower-income HISD workers, such as custodians and food-service employees, have been saying no to the district's health insurance plan even if they have no other coverage.

In the last year 1,712 district employees have opted out of coverage, a 347 percent increase from the year before. Overall, almost one-third of the district's 25,000 employees go without coverage.

It is, of course, a cost issue, says Orell Fitzsimmons, field director of the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union. Six years ago, bare-bones coverage was free; today it's $72 out of each biweekly paycheck. Standard family coverage can cost $223 a paycheck.

The school district had no comment, but Fitzsimmons says school board president Karla Cisneros told him the issue would be discussed when next year's budget comes up.

That may not seem like much, but it's better than what Fitzsimmons heard a few years ago from then-board member Laurie Bricker, during an AFL-CIO endorsement interview.

"If they don't want to pay for coverage, they can go to Ben Taub," he claims she said, referring to the city's emergency hospital.

Union reps were stunned at the time; now it seems their members are just taking Bricker up on her advice.

Hair Club for Men

Houston Texans quarterback David Carr has famously promised not to cut his hair until the team -- for the first time in its history -- wins two games in a row. That probably looked like a pretty good bet to the usually crew-cut Carr when he saw this year's schedule began with the woeful San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions (combined 2003 record: 9-23).

Alas, the Texans weren't quite up to the challenge, and now, even with the upset of the Chiefs, they have to tackle a tough schedule that just may have Carr facing some serious hair issues before long. Luckily, we have some suggestions (see photos above):

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